Summit County Gov’t. give solar a shot |

Summit County Gov’t. give solar a shot

Special to the Daily Workers installed solar panels on the Justice Center in Breckenridge last fall.

Summit County officials are anticipating a decrease in government utility bills in the coming years, as the recent installation of electricity-producing solar panels on public buildings across the county begins to pay off.

Through the $160,000 energy-saving project, completed just before the end of the year, six solar panel systems were installed to power five government buildings in Breckenridge, Frisco and Silverthorne.

“It looks like a savings of about $15,000 per year from all of those systems put together,” said assistant county manager Scott Vargo. “Which isn’t a huge portion of the overall utility expenses of the county, but it’s certainly a step in the right direction.”

Officials estimate it will take 10 years for the solar panel project to pay for itself in energy savings.

The solar panels, known as photovoltaic (PV) panels, are designed to harness sunlight to power their buildings. Excess energy generated by the systems will be returned to the Xcel grid and used elsewhere, earning the county rebates and reducing carbon emissions by replacing energy from coal burning. The systems are expected to offset some 1.5 million pounds of carbon dioxide over a 20-year period.

The panel systems could also be a spring board for additional solar initiatives.

“We’ll continue to look at other probably larger scale PV projects in the future,” Vargo said.

Transitioning to solar energy, the county government is jumping on board with a county-wide trend.

Solar-power technology has grown in popularity in recent years, particularly in Summit County, said Sean McPherson, project manager for Innovative Energy, the company that installed the county’s solar panel systems.

“People are protecting themselves against rising utility costs by doing this,” McPherson said. “The industry has grown considerably in the last one to two years.”

The solar panel systems are the capstone project of a series of energy-saving measures implemented by the county over the last few years.

The projects, which included retro-fitted lighting and insulation projects to reduce energy consumption, have helped reduce the county’s utility expenses by almost $140,000 – approximately 10 percent of the county’s total utilities bill – over the last two years.

These smaller projects were prioritized because of their quick return on investment. The retrofitted lights are expected to pay back the county’s capital costs in three years.

Many of the recent energy-effciency projects were paid for through a voter-approved mill levy from 2008, which was to provide funding for a number of county initiatives, including open space and trails, wildfire mitigation and response and recreation pathways as well as energy-saving projects.

The six solar powered systems installed on county facilities including the Justice Center in Breckenridge and the North Branch Library in Silverthorne are all up and running.

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